While most of us would love to be a GM, we will never get the chance. What we don’t realize is how hard some of the decisions can be. Moves that seem like a stroke of genius at the time can backfire, and seemingly inconsequential waiver wire pickups can turn out to be key players.
As far as off-seasons go, one of the toughest situations a GM can face is living up to the expectations of fans who believe their team is just one or two moves from “getting over the hump”.
With that in mind, I don’t envy the task of Philadelphia Flyers GM, Paul Holmgren, this summer.
The Flyers squeaked into the playoffs with a shootout win over the Rangers to clinch their spot. At one point in the playoffs they overcame a 3-0 series deficit and a 3-0 game seven deficit to defeat the Boston Bruins. It was a Cinderella post-season and those are the hardest to duplicate.
Take a look at the last 4 Stanley Cup runner-up’s and how they fared the following year:
Year Team Result
2005-06 Edmonton Oilers Finished 11th in the West
2006-07 Ottawa Senators Finished 7th in the East, lost in 1st Rd
2007-08 Pittsburgh Penguins Finished 4th in the East and won the Cup
2008-09 Detroit Red Wings Finished 5th in the West and lost in 2nd Rd
It’s obviously a mixed bag of results and this is by no means an extensive list. It is, however, a list of teams since the lockout who have had to deal with the salary cap. Also, it’s important to note that the only real long-shot cup finalist, the Oilers, had the biggest crash the following season.
Taking their magical run into account, it appears that Holmgren’s job is impossible, and as Iain Fyfe taught us a few weeks ago, a strong playoff run isn’t always indicative of a step forward the following season. However, as we take a deeper look at the Flyers roster and cap situation heading into this offseason, it might not be as difficult as it appears.
The Salary Cap
According to CapGeek.com, the Flyers currently have 17 players under contract for the 2010-11 season and are roughly $8 million under the estimated $56.8 million cap.
While 17 players isn’t enough for a full roster, the majority of Philadelphia’s core is young, productive and under contract. Many teams would kill for that type of situation. Let’s take a deeper look at each position.
The Flyers have 11 forwards under contract for next season, and this seems to be the strongest area of the team. Take a look at the eight I’ve selected in the table below. I’ve used regular season performance, purely because it’s a larger sample size than the playoffs and represents a more even level of competition when comparing to other teams.
Forwards Richards Carter Briere Giroux Hartnell Gagne Van Riemsdyk Leino
Age 25 25 32 22 28 30 21 26
Points 62 61 53 47 44 40 35 11
+/- -2 2 -2 -9 -6 -1 -1 -8
(per 60) 0.07 -0.06 0.44 -0.50 -0.19 0.17 0.07 -0.80
Pts/60 1.45 1.98 1.98 1.48 1.79 1.41 1.72 0.86
GVT 12.4 13.3 9.2 8.1 5.1 7.3 5.4 0.50
Corsi/60 5.30 5.39 9.83 2.13 4.95 3.28 7.59 13.76
(Corsi) 0.354 -0.052 -0.143 -0.063 -0.318 -0.004 -0.133 -0.120
starts 50.1% 49.7% 46.8% 47.6% 46.3% 47.9% 48.9% 50.1%
TOI/60 14.09 13.53 12.94 12.38 12.43 13.24 11.15 11.42
The Flyers may not have the top-end forwards of teams like the Blackhawks, Capitals, Penguins or Sharks, but they have good depth. Six of the eight are under the age of 30 and all eight of them drive positive shot differential as evidenced by their Corsi rating. Outshooting your opponent is a great way to win and the Flyers have that in abundance on the front lines.
Carter and Briere produce points at an elite rate (see Pts / 60), while Hartnell and Van Riemsdyk weren’t far behind.
Richards appears to produce at a lower level than these four, but he clearly faced the opposition’s top line more often than anyone else, as evidenced by his Quality of Competition.
However, the fact that Philadelphia started so much of the game in their own zone could be one of the reasons why so many of their forwards finished poorly on traditional +/-, despite having positive Corsi ratings.
Ville Leino’s stats from the regular season may surprise some due to his fantastic performance in the playoffs, but we don’t truly have a great sample size since he only played 13 regular season games.
With Philadelphia only needing another 2 forwards on the roster, it likely won’t be an area of focus. They would be best served to look for a defensive or face-off specialist. Another option is to take a gamble on a player that didn’t pan out elsewhere, like the Flames did with Nigel Dawes last year.
With only four defensemen under contract for next season, at first glance it would appear that the Flyers are thin along the blueline. However, one look at the table below will tell you that their top three would rival any team in the league. Unfortunately for them, the only other team with a trio of defensemen over 10 in GVT was the Blackhawks, and we all know how that turned out.
Defense (09/10 Reg) C.Pronger K.Timonen M.Carle O.Bartulis B.Coburn R.Parent
Age 35 35 25 23 25 23
Points 55 39 35 9 19 3
Standard +/- 22 -2 19 -12 -6 -14
Relative +/- (per 60) 1.10 -0.30 1.30 -1.08 -0.26 -1.12
Pts / 60 min 1.09 0.64 0.76 0.68 0.56 0.31
GVT 18.5 10.4 10.6 0 4.2 -1.1
Corsi / 60 7.39 4.46 5.09 -9.92 7.35 -10.48
Competition (Corsi) 0.282 0.138 0.158 -0.377 -0.241 -0.385
Zone starts 48.7% 47.3% 49.2% 46.2% 48.4% 49.0%
TOI / 60 min 17.53 14.76 17.82 13.35 15.92 12.29
With Braydon Coburn and Ryan Parent both restricted free agents, the Flyers could return a solid defensive core with some young, promising players behind them. Coburn had a solid, if unspectacular season while Parent showed a lot of promise in the minors, but has yet to leave a mark in the big leagues.
The biggest worry for Holmgren with his defensive corps is how they’re aging. Both Pronger and Timonen logged a ton of minutes in the playoffs and 35 year olds usually take a lot longer to recover than young players. The Flyers have $11.2M in cap space tied up in these two and could be susceptible to a dual offer sheet strategy on Coburn and Parent, depending on how they tender them. Derek Zona of the Copper n’ Blue explains the strategy in great detail here.
If the Flyers wanted to free up cap space and pick up some complementary talent, they could definitely get a lot for either Pronger or Timonen from a team that needs a veteran rearguard.
Only Brian Boucher and Johan Backlund are under contract. Michael Leighton’s inconsistency makes him a mediocre option at best, so the only chance the Flyers have of significantly upgrading the goalie position is to look in free agency or make a trade.
While the rest of the roster looks fantastic, it may have come at the expense of the goaltender position. With only $8 million in cap space and several holes to fill, finding a top goalie to add to the current talented roster is unlikely. That said, since the Flyers’ needs at forward and defense are mostly depth players, they could have $2.5-3.0M available for a goalie.
Goalies (09/10 Reg) B.Boucher M.Leighton C.Mason D.Ellis
Age 33 29 34 29
Games Played 33 34 61 31
Even-Strength Sv % 90.4% 89.4% 91.0% 91.3%
GVT -2.1 9.2 15.0 4.1
Career Save Percentage 90.0% 90.2% 91.4% 91.2%
Leighton could be had for an RFA qualifying offer while both Chris Mason and Dan Ellis could be solid free agent signings given that they earned at or below $3M last year. I would take either one over Boucher or Leighton, mainly on the back of their career save percentages.
The cupboard may be a little bare down on the Phantoms’ roster. Hockey’s Future has the Flyers ranked 28th out of 30 teams in their NHL Organizational Rankings. This is mainly due to recent call ups like Claude Giroux, James Van Riemsdyk and Ryan Parent so the situation isn’t as dire as it might sound.
That said, there weren’t any future Flyers in their list of top 50 prospects either so the parent club shouldn’t be expecting anybody to step into their lineup right away. With two solid forward lines of players under the age of 28, there is no need for panic.
Holmgren for a Summer
By the time we’ve scoured the Flyers strengths and weaknesses, they appear to be a franchise in fairly good shape, but may need to make a couple bold moves to ensure both a successful season next year and the long term cap health of the club.
The Flyers need more talent and consistency in net and unless they can sign up Chris Mason or Dan Ellis, I’m not too enamored with any of the UFA or RFA goalies out there now that Halak has been traded. Even Halak may have been overvalued as Puck Prospectus’ Andrew Rothstein pointed out.
Although it may be unpopular, moving Kimo Timonen could be a shrewd move. He has a cap hit of $6.3M, was clearly their 2nd best defenseman and is already 35 years old.
Youth-heavy teams with cap space like the Kings might be willing to part ways with a player the caliber of Jack Johnson if they felt Timonen could put them over the top. While that trade may not happen, the point is to take a lesser cap hit for a young player, even if he’s a slight drop in talent.
The other option would be to trade Simone Gagne. The Flyers are incredibly deep at forward and Gagne’s reputation seems to outstrip his production and health. He carries a $5.2M cap hit and could be another value to either trade for a goalie or just to free up the cap space to acquire one in another deal.
There are worse things in the NHL than having a wealth of young, productive forwards and one of the best defensive trios in the league. In the Flyers case, they have a lot of chips to play with, but the fan’s expectations will be the biggest hurdle. Best of luck Paul Holmgren, it’s a thankless job.
Ryan Popilchak is a contributor to Puck Prospectus and writes for Sports Opinionated. You can contact Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan Popilchak is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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